Journey to the heart of Breizh Tech

Written by Zoé Baillieux on Jun 5, 2019 2:21:50 PM

The region of Rennes, the former bastion of telecoms, has become a fertile ground for start-ups and their big sisters; scale-ups.

A directive of great symbolic meaning... Former France Telecom headquarters, the cradle of the Minitel and the smart card, the Mabilay building is now home to a trendy start-up hotel for Renne's startups still in their early stages. With its oversized antenna and its golden yellow saucer, the spacecraft that dominates the metropolis of 443,000 inhabitants is the most obvious icon of choice for the technological revolution transforming the Breton economy.

Exit the solid but rigid culture of engineers ( notably telecoms ...), that has long been the reputation of the region. Make room for agility and the start-up's own resources. Further west in Finistère, the "Vieilles Charrues" music festival is taking place each July and welcomes digital exchanges between individuals and conferences on this thriving ecosystem in its VIP section. The event is organized by the West Web Festival and SXSW.

Rising Stars

In the region, innovation manifests itself everywhere. Neither public authorities nor private actors want the complete set up of sectors as to not discourage the fervent innovations, which are beyond cybersecurity and the Internet of Things.

The rising stars include, a pioneer of the electronic notarial profession based on blockchain (Woleet), a software supplier used by France Info TV journalists to deepen their topics on interactive screens (Excense), a radiofrequency equipment manufacturer that connects the OneWeb constellation satellites (Syrlinks), a maritime satellite pioneer (Unseenlabs) and the inventor of the first medical telemonitoring device for chronic respiratory insufficiency (Biosency).

They work alongside the world leader in light shaping, via photonic technology (Cailabs), an international digital video champion that broadcasts for the media industry (Enensys), a recognized equipment manufacturer of the Internet of Things ( Kerlink) and the local star, Klaxoon, who wants to revolutionize meetings ...

Breizh Tech is doing very well, as attested by the figures of the Poool - with three "o’s", which today stands as proof of its overflowing vitality …- Since June, the organization has regrouped the forces of French Tech and those of Rennes Atalante: 247 start-ups and scale-ups, their big sisters who are more mature abroad, flourish in the 14 local accelerators. About 50 companies are created every year, with a five-year survival rate that exceeds 60%. Financing, which has long been a stumbling block to growth, is now a reality. In 2018, 37 companies raised 93 million euros,15 times more than four years ago!

Gone are the days when Rennes Go Capital was the only player on the scene. Funds have multiplied, whether regional (West Wab Valley, Breizh Up, Business Angels Logoden ...) or from elsewhere. Riding the gravy train, the big names are coming - from Isai by Jean-David Chamborédon to Xavier Niel's Kima Ventures. As shown by Matthieu Beucher, CEO of Klaxoon - who raised 43 million euros in May 2018 after harvesting 5 million two years earlier: "After first fundraising, which was difficult for a provincial company like ours, we decided not to confine ourselves to the local actors that they tended to send us to. It took a year to understand how the big funds worked, but we managed to get back on their playground. We've seen 200 in six weeks time, to find the right ones to keep us in control of our future. "

Led by Idinvest, the campaign was finally subscribed by BPIFrance, Sofiouest and New York's White Star Capital. Three months ago, Salesforce Ventures, the US leader in customer relationship management software, took part in the 9 million euro roundtable of Rennes' Dolmen, a specialist in customer marketing.

Recreate Social Ties

In this favorable environment, Steeple is one of the rare adventures to finance itself. Founded in 2014 by a tandem of imaginative students, one in business at ESC Rennes and the other at the local Insa (a highly rated public engineering school), this start-up was lucky enough to be initially hosted free of charge at ESC, then incubated at Village by CA before joining  the Mabilay start-up hotel in January where they benefit from a three year lease at a preferential rate.Their mission? Recreate social ties in companies through touch screens, which broadcast both information about company culture, CE projects, employee classifieds and playful initiatives (World cup prediction games, ugliest Christmas sweater poll, etc.). "Steeple means steeple in English. Our screens must become a visible point for all and allow everyone to find and recreate an enduring village spirit that is often dehumanized in organizations ", good commercial potential, the young (28-year-old) president of the company, Jean-Baptiste de Bel Air, hails from Landerneau a commune in the Finistère department of Brittany.

Originally conceived as a "desktop Facebook", the company swung to a physical interactive tool, often installed near the coffee machine like the good old bulletin boards, after finding out how many employees did not connect to the Internet, because of lack of access, training or lack of desire. Some 200 customers in the Greater West - from Leclerc centers to Lesieur, Lindt, Bouygues Bâtiments and Vinci - have subscribed to the startup software, which has exceeded one million euros of turnover in 2018.

The excellence of the education system

Like many others in Rennes, Steeple benefits from a "favorable alignment of the planets", according to Ronan Le Moal, co-founder of one of the funds for the region, the West Web Valley (35 million euros ). "Brittany has always been a dynamic land of entrepreneurs. It must be said that its remoteness allowed us to test our perseverance, exclaims the general manager of Arkea group. Today, the high-speed Internet makes it possible to locate almost everywhere and the progress of transport, are big accelerators. Ideas not only jostle but they are easier to achieve! "

Amongst other key factors, Stanislas Hintzy, General Director of Poool, stresses the excellence of higher education and research system: "With 70,000 students, including 7,000 foreigners, nearly 3,000 graduates flock to digital professions each year, 10,000 professors, researchers, and doctoral students, Rennes is well endowed - it is the third pole for public research in France after Paris and Grenoble! This is the backbone of any successful ecosystem found in Silicon Valley, Boston or Berlin. Added to the price per square meter that is affordable for young companies - and their employees who are old enough to want to start a family - and the loyalty of the workforce who appreciate the quality of life in this metropolis are subscribed to the “Top 5 cities where life and work are good".

Olivier Marc, co-founder of Advalo, a mini-Criteo from Rennes, an expert in predictive and individualized marketing, warmly welcomed one of his employees returning from Silicon Valley. This engineer from Brest previously employed by Google was afraid that some web developers would give way under pressure from GAFA... Seeing them back, he was relieved to know that the "mentality of mercenaries" had not contaminated his teams!

A triple-digit growth rate

Originally from Granville, Arnaud Legrand, for his part, carried out an intensive study of several regions, from Normandy to Burgundy, before implementing Energiency in Rennes. They are now headquartered at Fabrique - a former weapons factory where Giat manufactured sockets for its AMX-30 tanks, reconverted into an incubator by Jocelyn Denis, the boss of the tech company, Digitaleo -, this agronomist has not always enjoyed such pleasant working conditions: "In 2013, I started with four chairs, a table, and the Internet in a temporary structure where it was 37 degrees in summer and -10 in winter! Our current environment is, without comparison, the height of luxury, and it has a real soul element related to the history of the building. We are installed in the boiler room of the military factory, that has been abandoned since 1989. A good sign for the future of our company that allows its customers to achieve energy savings!"

Inria spinoff (National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation), Energiency retrieves energy consumption data from industrial sites and analyzes it in real time, using artificial intelligence, to suggest performance improvements. Its "triple-digit growth" demonstrates its usefulness to customers, from (Norwegian) paper leader Norske Skog to  (Swedish) SKF ball bearings champions, Solvay or Arcelor Mittal.

After hiring 25 people and raising 2.7 million euros, Arnaud Legrand is convinced of the merits of the location: " We have no intention of leaving Rennes in order to grow and expand internationally. With the train station ten minutes away and the airport five minutes away, I am an hour and a half away from Paris by TGV train and one hour from Lyon by plane, where our commercial office for Europe is located. "


Deep Tech Valley

The only thing left to do is find an evocative name that identifies Rennes on a global scale. Some find the expression Breizh Tech excessively frank or even downright cheesy, and brainstorming is well underway to replace it. Jocelyn Denis, the CEO of Digitaleo, whose digital marketing company achieved 8.8 million in turnover with 4,000 customers in Europe, is not the last to play the game: "French Tech has the merit of clarity but would sow confusion. As a  further extension of the Rennes metro is expected to take place, we sometimes speak of Metro Valley, but this excludes other growth centers like Saint-Malo. We will keep the name Deep Tech Valley, for the time being, which seems to be leading the race at the moment.”

Without waiting for the results, several companies have already renamed themselves in order to better prospect foreign markets. The specialist in Telecom Health with connected hospital rooms has recently become Hoppen, and Region Jobs - a platform that connects employers and people seeking employment- HelloWork.


Rennes, Google's first digital workshop

In downtown Rennes, between a Rodier shop and a bakery, Google opened its first digital workshop last June in France. "We found public, private and associative actors that are enthusiastic and work well together,". People are free to learn digital tools, whatever their level and activity. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, beaches are reserved for families. Children learn coding while parents make themselves familiar with safe browsing - how to choose a password, verify which data is shared, and so on. Professionals work on more specialized themes like (developing business through SEO, Internet story-telling tips ...). In nine months, more than 10,000 people were trained. Google workshops were inaugurated in Montpellier in February and Nancy in April, and Saint-Etienne will be inaugurated in the very near future.


Article taken from Les Echos - written by Isabelle Lesniak, Head of Les Echos Week-End

Topics: Predictive Marketing, individualized marketing, expert interview

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